It’s been so long ago that I have started to question whether Florentina Ariza ever truly loved Fermina Daza. And why is it that what remains most vivid in my mind is how Dr. Urbino’s tasseled slippers made Fermina weep after his death?
“The thing you remember most is what has most deeply affected you,” writes Renato Cisneros. Have I always been affected by loss, or afraid of the space of another’s absence?
I apologize. I have fully digressed right from the beginning! Is it even possible to digress right from the beginning?
But what makes the writing and the translation of The Distance Between Us so satisfying is that it is reminiscent of my first encounters with the Latin American greats! (Not the magic realism aspect for there is none of that here, but in the way the writer involves the reader intimately by making the characters palpable, using subtle tricks of psychoanalysis to dig as far within as they can so that one can gaze even into the unconscious.) But perhaps, most of all, for the moving premise of a son writing a book in an attempt to reduce the distance between him and his deceased father, a controversial figure in Peru’s turbulent history: A poignant endeavor to understand who the father really was in order for the son to fully understand himself. To acknowledge the faults of the father so as not to perpetuate them. To break the cycle and confront, rather than escape as his father and forebears have done, “Ignoring and later burying the thornier details of their pasts, they turned their backs on the intrigues of their shared history, embarking on a course of permanent disorientation…”
And yet, “Just as a father is never prepared to bury his son, a son is never prepared to dig up his father.” His undertaking brought to light his father’s amorous affairs; classified information that led him to acknowledge, though he loved him, that his father was a villain, but also that villains are made of wounds; the discovery that his parents were never legally married; and then to write about their love, to legitimize it — “This novel is my parents’ lost marriage certificate.”
Forget my likening Charco Press books to espresso shots. This strong blend of the personal and the political compelled me to spend hours and days between its pages. “Authenticity” is such an abused term nowadays that I sometimes wonder if the overuse has marked the word with a tinge of insincerity. Then comes along a book like this that keeps such doubts at bay. A work devoid of the inauthenticities of biographies and brimming with the honesty that confronts us in fiction.
Was I wrong to wish that the son of a dictator who is now our current president could be more like this son? But I digress, again.